Hazem Salah Abu Ismail
Egyptian presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail denies that his mother was an American citizen. Reuters

Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a conservative Islamist candidate for the Egyptian presidency, could be disqualified due to California public records indicating that his mother was an American citizen.

The candidate denies the allegation and has sent a delegation to the United States in order to investigate the records in question, reports the New York Times.

Abu Ismail's mother, Nawal Abel Aziz Nour, is deceased. Records indicating her American citizenship include a voter registration list and unspecified travel documents, according to Interior Ministry officials.

Egypt's election laws disqualify presidential candidates whose parents are not Egyptian citizens.

Abu Ismail maintains that his mother, who lived in Santa Monica, Calif., had a green card and legal residence but not American citizenship. He told Al Arabiya that the charges against him were contrived, and that this is the work of those who support opposing candidate Khairat al-Shater of the Muslim Brotherhood.

I was asked to withdraw in favor of Shater and I was shocked because those who asked me are Salafis like me and I have never imagined they would want to me give up the work of a whole year. They could have just remained silent if they don't want to declare their support for me, he said.

That is why I shall go ahead with my campaign and do my best to be up to the expectations of all the honorable citizens, whether Muslims or Christians, who put their trust in me.

When Abu Ismail formally announced his candidacy on March 30, a celebratory parade erupted, stopping traffic on the crowded streets of Cairo. Posters bearing his likeness were pasted onto walls and affixed to car windows. During public appearances, he is often besieged by admiring members of the electorate.

Abu Ismael is a former lawyer turned Salafist preacher. On social issues he is considered ultraconservative, preferring that women cover their hair and do not enter the workforce. He aims to implement Sharia law as president, but has promised not to discriminate against Egypt's Copts and other religious minorities.

In foreign policy he is nationalist to the point of isolationism, campaigning on the idea that Egypt can prosper if it cuts off trade with the West. He has praised Iran and favors a renege on Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.

Shater, Abu Ismail's main opponent, is a member of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which swept Egyptian parliamentary elections this winter. The FJP is an Egyptian extension of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization.

Many in the international community were initially wary of FJP dominance, preferring more secular governance for post-revolution Egypt. But compared to a hardline Salafist like Abu Ismail, the FJP candidate has become much more appealing to the West; U.S. officials have praised Shater for his intelligence and pragmatism.

Now, it is the Egyptian people themselves who are wary of Shater and the FJP. They supported the party in large numbers during parliamentary elections, but that was back when the Muslim Brotherhood promised that it would not field a presidential candidate. Now that they have gone back on their word and allowed Shater to run, the public is concerned that a government dominated by a single party could wield too much power, as did former President Hosni Mubarak before his violent ouster last year.

Abu Ismail is well aware of the public's sense of unease, and is employing revolutionary rhetoric to bolster his case with the Egyptian people. Questions about his mother's citizenship, he says, will not deter him from campaigning.

If presidential elections are not fair or their results are manipulated, I will go to international courts if the Egyptian judiciary will not do me justice. The era of subjugation is over, he said to Al Arabiya. It saddens me to say that if this does not end, then the blood of the revolution's martyrs have not yet managed to purify Egypt.

The Egyptian election commission will likely decide whether Abu Ismail is eligible for candidacy before presidential elections begin in May.